Judge Backs Heart of Arizona Immigration Law

  • September 06, 2012
  • By Jim Malewitz

The heart of Arizona's law cracking down on undocumented immigrants is poised to take effect following a federal judge's ruling.

In a decision on Wednesday (September 5), U.S. District Court Judge Susan Bolton refused to halt the state's controversial “show me your papers” policy, which allows police to check the immigration status of anyone they suspect to be in the country illegally. But in the split ruling, Bolton blocked the law's provision that would criminalize knowingly transporting or harboring undocumented immigrants.

The decision — the latest development in more than two years of wrangling over SB 1070, the 2010 law championed by Governor Jan Brewer that sparked concerns about racial profiling— largely mirrored last month's federal court ruling on laws in Alabama and Georgia inspired by Arizona's.

In both cases, judges refused to stray from precedent established by the nation's highest court in June. That's when, in ruling on the Obama administration's challenge to SB 1070, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down some parts of the law but said its “show me your papers” provision does not preempt federal law. The challenge in District Court —made by new plaintiffs employing a different set of legal arguments — produced the same result.

“This Court will not ignore the clear direction in the [Supreme Court's] opinion,” Bolton wrote. The provision “cannot be challenged further on its face before the law takes effect.”

The policy may take as long as 10 days to go into effect because the judge must lift an injunction in another case. Lawyers from Arizona and the United States will offer language to do that.

The law's “harboring” provision, however, does conflict with federal law, Bolton said. “While state officials are authorized to make arrests for these violations of federal law,” she wrote, “the federal government retains exclusive jurisdiction to prosecute."

The ruling prompted mixed reactions from both sides of the issue.

"The district court was correct in blocking Arizona's harboring statute, which criminalized many everyday interactions with unauthorized immigrants,” Cecillia Wang, director of the ACLU Immigrants' Rights Project, said in a statement. “Unfortunately, the district court's ruling let the “show me your papers” law stand, despite significant new evidence that it was passed with a discriminatory motive and will result in illegal detentions.”

Brewer applauded the “show me your papers” decision, saying “Arizona makes a clear statement that it will not tolerate sanctuary city policies, and will now have thousands of additional officers to collaborate with the federal government as state and local law enforcement do what they always have: enforce the law.”

“It must be enforced efficiently, effectively and in harmony with the Constitution and civil rights,” she said of the provision. “I have no doubt Arizona's law enforcement officers are up for the task ahead.”

As for the ruling's other half, a Brewer spokesperson told the Wall Street Journal it was “disappointing but not unexpected.”

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